After a month of mostly waiting, some speculating and a late burst of intrigue fueled by the NFL rumor mill, Peyton Manning is doing what we all figured he would (and should) do upon the heels of winning his second Super Bowl championship back in early February. Peyton Manning will officially announce his retirement from the NFL today in a press conference slated for noon Central Time.
Certainly, Tom Brady is making it harder and harder with each passing season to argue anybody else as the greatest quarterback of all time, but you'd have a hard time arguing Peyton Manning doesn't belong in the conversation and isn't a lock cinch for one of the spots in the Top 5 all-time quartrerbacks.
In his 17 seasons in the league (Peyton missed the entire 2011 season recovering from neck surgery), Peyton amassed a 186-79 regular season record, and in the 16 seasons in which he started all 16 games, he won double-digit games all but two and in every season since 2001. Manning retires as the all-time leader in passing yards (71,940) and touchdown passes (539). He was selected to play in 14 Pro Bowls, was named first team All-Pro seven times and was named league MVP a record five times (2003, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2013).
In the NFL, most great players stay a year or two too long, giving their longtime enemies a chance to knock them around like a rag doll and finally get a laugh or two at their expense. From an individual performance standpoint, Peyton Manning was no different. His final season was, far and away, his worst statistically, with Manning throwing 17 interceptions in nine starts. (All indications are that if any team had wanted to keep paying Manning to play quarterback, he'd have listened to them.)
However, in perhaps the most ironic twist in a career where the main criticism of Manning was his underwhelming postseason record, Manning won his second Super Bowl title in the season in which all the other teams were supposed to be able to bully him and poke fun at his diminished skills. Hard to poke fun at a guy while he's hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
A few other random Peyton Manning thoughts...
1. The 1998 draft
Peyton Manning will always be inextricably linked to Ryan Leaf in NFL Draft history. They were the top two picks in the 1998 draft, and Manning is perhaps the greatest number one overall pick in league history. (Oddly enough, it's probably between Manning and his most recent boss, John Elway, for that title.) Leaf, number two overall behind Manning in 1998, is the most disastrous draft pick, period. If you want to relive the magic of 1998, watch this video...
2. Denver reinvention
After sitting out the 2011 season with neck surgery, a turn of events that was short-term tragic for the Colts (2-14 in 2011) but long-term beneficial (what up, Andrew Luck!), Manning re-entered the league in 2012 as a member of the Denver Broncos. With arm strength that was significantly diminished because of time off and age, he managed to pile up a 45-12 record, a 2013 MVP season that included a record 55 TD passes, two Super Bowl berths and one title.
3. Texans torment
Perhaps no franchise has been more tormented by Peyton Manning than the Houston Texans. In the nine seasons in Indy plus two matchups as a Bronco, Manning piled up a 17-3 overall record, 5,852 passing yards and 48 touchdown passes against just 8 interceptions. On top of that, there will always be the urban legend of how Peyton wanted to come to Houston in 2012, but Gary Kubiak decided that he wanted to proceed with Matt Schaub (and his magical "pick six" machine gun!). So forgive me if I'm not jumping on the brigade of sycophants who are "thanking" Peyton Manning this morning. Yes, thank you for kicking our asses for a decade and a half, Peyton. THANK. YOU. Idiots.
4. Career earnings
Peyton Manning earned $248,700,000 in his NFL career, the most of any player in league history. Second on the list is his brother Eli, at over $187,000,000. What this means is that it's a miracle Cooper Manning hasn't turned into the Billy Carter of the NFL, a drunken sibling just living high on the hog off of brotherly teet. Good for you, Cooper!
5. America's pitchman
Peyton's pro-football-reference.com page says his nickname is "The Sheriff," which is strange because I've never heard one person refer to him as "The Sheriff" the way you would using a nickname, where they say "The Sheriff" with no context and you know EXACTLY who they're talking about. When I associate Peyton Manning with something Pavlovian, it won't be "The Sheriff," it'll be "CUT. THAT. MEAT."....
...or every Nationwide jingle ever...
....or his odd relationship with the Papa John's guy.....
If Peyton made $248 million as a player, it feels like he should've made ten times that as a pitchman.
6. Saturday Night Live
To Peyton's credit, not only does he belong in the pantheon of greatest quarterbacks ever, he's also on the short list of greatest athlete SNL hosts of all time...
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7. Poor Brock Osweiler
Once the hoopla is over with Manning retiring, attention will turn to his backup the last four seasons, Brock Osweiler, and his pending contract extension with the Broncos. Rumor has it that Osweiler will be receiving upwards of $15 million per season for the next few years. Manning has now left his shadow over two franchises upon leaving, but this is the first time he will really leave behind impossible shoes to fill. In Indy, Andrew Luck came in after a one-season buffer in between Manning and the futility of 2-14. Colts fans were totally cool with Luck, and he paid off in his rookie season, getting the Colts back to the playoffs. Osweiler is following a Super Bowl winning season, and is about half the player Luck is. The Osweiler implosion could be spectacular.
8. What's next?
Now we wait and see what Manning decides to do next. I don't think it's a reach to say that the network bidding war to bring him on as an analyst, either in studio or on game broadcasts, could be the biggest in the history of the genre. If Peyton wants that life, it's there for him. More likely, I see him either running, constructing or owning (or all three, à la Jerry Jones) an NFL team.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.